In these modern days, most children spend their time on screens. Unlike in the old days, children were eagerly waiting for 6pm every evening so that they could go to the playground.
These days, children may not be spending time outside due to many reasons. The most obvious reason has to be the domination of gadgets in children. Parents may not see this as an issue for them, in fact, they may feel relieved that they do not need to spend their time outside guarding their children playing. As simple as they may think, letting children play and spend time outside comes with a lot of benefits.
What are some of the benefits of playing outdoors?
Physical and Health Development
Decrease risk of Myopia
Myopia, sometimes known as short-sightedness, is becoming more prevalent worldwide. By 2050, this vision impairment will impact roughly 4.8 billion people, 2.8 billion more than in 2010. Myopia is a condition where the light entering the eye is focused in front of the retina rather than directly on it, causing blurred distant vision. This distant vision issue typically arises when the axial length of the eyes grows excessively long from the front to the rear and most commonly occurs when the eyes are still developing in childhood.
Myopia can be inherited or caused by specific lifestyle choices, such as spending too much time in front of a screen or performing other close-up jobs. Although people commonly blame this on genetics, genetics by themselves cannot account for this rapidly developing issue. Instead, specialists claim that we have been underestimating how the environment, and the outdoors, affects our eyesight.
The eye muscles also require relaxation after long hours of constant use, just like other muscles in the body. Eye muscles relax when you are outside and concentrating on distant objects, especially after spending all day staring at a device or in a classroom. A number of studies have suggested that letting kids play outside can reduce their risk of myopia. One study by Wu encouraged young Taiwanese children to spend more time outside and after a year, students who spent at least 11 hours a week outside had much less axial elongation and myopic shift than those who stayed indoors.
Exposure to natural sunlight
When children play outside during the day, they will be exposed to the natural sunlight. Safe play in the sun can supply good nutrients like vitamin D to children.
Additionally, the human brain can tune its ‘biological clock’ by using light cues. So, this can also ensure that children can maintain a healthy sleeping rhythm. Healthy sleeping rhythm is crucial for children to have a good rest and are always energetic and ready to learn, explore or simply get through their day.
However, we still need to take note of not exposing children to excessive amounts of sunlight, as this can lead to skin cancer and other skin problems.
Improve motor skills
Children develop 2 types of motor skills: 'fine' motor skills and 'gross' motor skills. Fine motor skills engage with smaller muscles of the body such as fingers. Gross motor skills on the other hand, engage with the larger muscles of the body to coordinate and make larger movements.
Fine motor skills let your child make use of small muscles as in their hands or fingers to do activities like holding, grasping or pinching. They will learn how to use their hands and eventually will help them in bigger daily activities as they grow up such as holding a pencil to write.
Gross motor abilities refer to activities like crawling, running, jumping, and throwing that require the use of the bigger muscles in the arms, legs, and torso. You might have noticed that children do not like to remain still, right? This is normal as your child grows up because they are developing their gross motor abilities by constantly making movements and exploring what their muscles can do.
It is proven that children who play outside develop and improve their motor skills such as coordination, balance, and agility at a higher level than their "indoor" peers. Outdoor play encourages children to move in ways that strengthen their bones, muscles, and physical strength when they do activities that trigger their motor skills such as playing catch and run, kicking a ball or climbing the stairs to go down on a slide.
Help children stay fit and prevent diseases
Not just adults, children also need cardiovascular exercise to maintain good health. Your child usually has more room and freedom to make large actions like running, jumping, kicking, and throwing when they are outside. These kinds of physical activities are beneficial for your child's physical growth and fitness. This can also prevent children from suffering obesity since the prevalence of obesity among children is worrying. Children who spend more time outside being active are less likely to become obese since they are being energetic getting rid of the calories. Obesity has many awaiting health complications in the long run. Some of these complications are diabetes, cardiovascular disease or asthma.
Children exposed to outdoor play from an early age are more likely to have the awareness to take care of their health and fitness when they grow up. Besides being fit to efficiently carry out daily activities, this may also develop their interest in participating sports. In fact, Children are advised to exercise at least an hour every day. Of course, they can exercise indoors but getting them to play outside will certainly encourage and excite them to actively play, which can also be a form of exercise for them.
Improving children’s five senses
Children who spend time indoors watching TV or playing mobile games usually use only two out of five of their senses which are hearing and sight senses. On the contrary, children who spend time playing outside have more chances to utilize more of their senses. While playing, they see, hear, touch, smell and perhaps, even taste. This can enhance their ability to respond and process the sensory stimuli they encounter.
Helps children in learning new words and concept
Hands-on learning is one type of learning that can help children in understanding new words. Especially words related to the things that they can experience physically such as words related to movements or textures. A study revealed that it is much easier to understand what is meant by “squish” if you experience and feel mud squishing through your fingers. Children are more likely to learn and understand the concept of certain words by experiencing it on their own. Therefore, going outdoors can broaden their sensory experience and develop an intuitive knowledge of how things work.
Contribute to social and communication skills
A study shows that children who spend their time mostly outdoors are more socially expressive, which means they are able to verbalize their ideas and desires. They will also have a low tendency to have any problems to fit in and play with others. Playing together requires teamwork which helps contribute to a positive peer-to-peer relationship. In addition, interacting with other children while they are having fun outdoors indirectly contributes to the development of their social skills. While playing, of course, they will be talking to each other, this also helps to hone their communication skills as well.
Instill good behavior
When children play outside, they might also encounter other children’s parents and other individuals as well. This can introduce them to valuable social lessons. Some grown ups may display good behavior, for example, turn-taking and being compromised towards others. Children, with their nature of imitating what they see or hear around them, will be influenced and eventually follow the good behaviors modeled.
Furthermore, children who play outdoors have more self-awareness and compassion towards others. Studies showed that children who play outdoors have less tendency to be a bully.
Being used to having interactions and socializing with other people from a young age will benefit children in the future. As they grow up, they will be familiar with the situation with crowds and strangers and will always be confident to communicate and socialize. Crowded situations and meeting new people can be overwhelming for some people and make them become socially awkward. However, this is not the case for children who have been exposed to such situations from young.
So dear readers, by now it is clear that letting children play outside brings benefits to them in not just one aspect, but holistically. It covers and prepares them for their growing years. So, it is important for you to let your child explore, discover and experience new things during their outdoor playing activities, which can contribute to nourishing and nurturing their potential talents and abilities.
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